10 Landmark Judgments of Tort Law

Landmark Judgments of Tort Law

Radha Nandi, a first-year law student from Sarsuna Law College has written this Article “10 Landmark Judgments of Tort Law”


A tort is a civil wrong other than a violation of a contract whose remedy entails compensatory unliquidated damages for the harm that was done. It is an action or inaction that violates another person’s legal rights and places them at risk of responsibility. The main goals of tort law are to compensate victims for their losses. Moreover, it prevents similar harm from occurring in the future. An injunction or monetary damages can be recovered from the defendant by the affected party through a civil lawsuit. It can also be filed by the defendant. Trespass, assault, battery, carelessness, nuisance, defamation, and other common torts include these. The following are some notable case laws that have influenced tort law’s evolution.

BHIM SINGH V STATE OF J & K AND Ors, 22ND NOVEMBER 1985, AIR 1986 SC 494, (1985) 4 SCC 677

The facts of the case:

  • Bhim Singh served in Jammu and Kashmir’s Legislative Assembly. On the first day of the budget session, he was ordered to be excused from the assembly; the suspension order was upheld by the High Court until September 9th, 1985. He was hauled away by the police around three in the morning while his route from Jammu to Srinagar, was close to a location known as Qazi Kund. Jayamala, his wife, requested that the respondents bring Bhim before the court because the police had wrongfully imprisoned him. He was detained in a police cell for four days before being brought before the magistrate. Additionally, he was not seen by a doctor. On the fourteenth, he was eventually brought before a magistrate. In relation to both this and his unlawful imprisonment, he filed an affidavit.
  • There were also counter-affidavits from the police, in which they claimed that Bhim was arrested because of provocative comments he had made on the Parade Ground. In his case, they had even supplied a medical certificate.
  • The police were unable to explain how they were aware that he would leave Qazi Kund that evening or how the Senior Superintendent of Udhampur and his colleagues were to accompany him. As a result, the Court determined that since a meeting was scheduled on the 11th, it was anticipated of him to pass through that area on the 10th, and they detained him to keep him from attending the Legislative Assembly session. Police officers have a responsibility to protect the public, thus strange acts of lawlessness are not to be anticipated of them.

Judgment of the court:

As a result, the Court ruled that there was no longer a need for his release because he was no longer being held. However, he was entitled to compensation since the guardians of the law had breached his legal rights. As a result, it was mandated that the State of Jammu and Kashmir pay the Registrar of the Court Rs. 50,000 as restitution for Bhim Singh’s unlawful incarceration.

DONOGHUE V STEVENSON 1932 S.C. (H.L.) 31, 1932 S.L.T 317,[1932] W.N. 139: One of the Landmark Judgments of Tort Law

Facts of the case

  • In one instance, Donoghue’s companion bought her a ginger beer from a café, which she drank just partially. Because the bottle was opaque and dark, she couldn’t notice the snail remains until she poured the remaining half into a glass. She suffered acute gastroenteritis as a result of her great shock. She thus presented her argument before the House of Lords.
  • The primary issue in this situation was whether there was a contractual arrangement between Donoghue and the manufacturer or if the manufacturer owed Donoghue any duty of care.
  • At that time, a contractual connection was required for the issue of negligence to be brought up.

Judgment of the court

  • The appellant was awarded a favorable judgment. With Lord Buckmaster and Lord Tomlin writing the opposing opinion, it was decided by a vote of 3-2. In terms of law, this decision marked a turning point that established three new rules pertaining to the issue at hand.  
  • The concept of carelessness as a tort, whose violation might result in legal action, was first created. It was established that the plaintiff is entitled in filing a civil action against the respondent if the plaintiff sustained injuries or property loss as a result of the respondent’s failure to exercise reasonable care. In these situations, the responder is responsible for paying the damages in line with the kind and severity of the losses incurred. Previously, only after the parties had already entered into a contract could such an action be conducted. In contrast, the appellant was permitted to get damages in the current case even though there was no such contract, holding the manufacturer accountable for any harm brought on by using his goods.
  • The second premise established the possibility of holding product creators accountable for the damage brought on by their creations. It was discovered that producers owed customers who utilized their finished goods a duty of care. Manufacturers are required to use reasonable care, and those who failed to do so should be held accountable for providing consumers with dangerously flawed goods.

Ashby v. White (1703):

Facts of the case:

This is the Aylesbury election case, a voting rights case from the eighteenth century. In this case, the returning officer, Mr. White, barred the plaintiff, Mr. Ashby, from casting a ballot in the parliamentary elections. Because he wasn’t a permanent resident, he wrongfully denied him the opportunity to vote. Despite the fact that the candidate for whom he wished to vote won, Mr. Ashby asserted that his legal right to vote had been violated. This situation caused a nationwide debate and even prompted a legislative discussion. According to the defendant, Mr. Ashby suffered no real loss as a result of his refusal to cast a ballot. For the infringement of his legal rights, the plaintiff demanded restitution.

Judgment of the court:

The plaintiff was awarded the judgment by the court. It utilized the ‘injuria sine damnum’, or ‘injury without harm’, idea. It suggests that the law does not recognize simple damages but only legitimate injuries. Even if there is no physical harm done, the victim is entitled to compensation if a legal injury, or someone’s legal right, is infringed. Thus, in the current instance, even if the plaintiff wished to vote for the candidate who had won, his legal right to vote was infringed when he was unjustly prevented from doing so. He is therefore entitled to compensation. Any injury causes harm, even if it doesn’t cost the party a penny, according to Chief Justice Holt. Damage may be both financial and physical, and it is considered to have occurred when someone’s rights are violated.


Facts of the case:

One of the defendants in this case, the driver of the automobile, was driving it to the gas station. Two people were picked up in his automobile by him on the way. Suddenly, one of the bolts holding the right wheel to the axle failed, causing the jeep to tumble. As a result, several strangers suffered severe injuries, and one of them even passed away. For damages experienced in that accident, the plaintiff, who was the stranger who used the lift, filed a claim against the driver of the vehicle and the owner of the vehicle, who served as his master. This is considered one of the Landmark Judgments of Tort Law.

Judgment of the court:

The court ruled that it was a case of Volenti Non-Fit Injuria, which states that if a person willingly agrees to incur the risk of doing something for which he is aware of a potential risk without being forced to do so, he has done so voluntarily. In these situations, neither the master nor the servant may be held accountable for any harm done to the individual as a result of whatever risk he willingly accepted.

Similar to that, in this instance, the strangers willingly accepted a ride in the automobile despite the possibility of accidents. Therefore, in such a situation, the driver of the car or his master cannot be held accountable for everything that happens to the victim within the range of foreseeable hazards. In this particular case, the collision was unquestionably a foreseeable danger. As a result, the plaintiff’s lawsuit was rejected, and neither the master nor the servant faced consequences.

Hall v. Brooklands auto racing club (1933):

Facts of the case:

This case is connected to a collision involving a motor vehicle racing circuit. The track had an oval form and a circumference of at least two miles. The finishing straight, which was over 100 feet long and over 100 feet broad, was another feature. A cement curb surrounded it on all sides. The spectators were permitted to observe the race from a secure distance behind the 4 feet 6-inch-high cement curb and railings.

Many individuals, however, decided to stand by themselves outside the barrier. Two vehicles were traveling quickly toward a left-facing steep turn during the race. One of the vehicles made contact with the offside of another vehicle during the competition. The result of this was that the automobile slammed into the railing after flying over the curb. A number of people were hurt, and two spectators died as a result of the disaster. The proprietors of the racing circuit were sued for negligence by one of the wounded spectators since they had encouraged people to witness the race in such hazardous surroundings.

Judgment by the court:

The Court concluded that the defendants have a clear obligation to eliminate all reasonably foreseeable risks from the track in order to make it safe for spectators. They were not accountable for risks that could not have been foreseen or for risks that the spectator had consented to since they are inherent in the activity. For instance, while purchasing tickets for a cricket or football game, the spectator agrees to the activity’s inherent risk, such as getting struck by the ball. In this instance, the spectator area was entirely safe and guarded, but they are more likely to be in danger if they approach the fences or the track too closely.   The accident was also unexpected because nothing like this had ever happened before. Due to the following two main factors, the defendants were not liable:

  • The accident was unexpected.
  • When purchasing tickets, the spectators impliedly agreed to the risks associated with the activity’s nature.

Rylands v. Fletcher (1868):

Facts of the case:

The defendants, in this case, were mill owners in a Lancashire coal mining region who made the decision to build a reservoir on their property. When the reservoir was built and filled with water, the filled-in shaft of an abandoned coal mine was breached by the water. The plaintiff’s operational mine was close when it was destroyed, and the associated passages were inundated. The trial court cleared the defendants when the case came before it on the grounds that they were unaware of the abandoned mine shaft when building the reservoir. So, it was impossible to accuse them of negligence.

The Exchequer Chamber overturned the trial court’s ruling and imposed strict responsibility on the defendants after the plaintiffs later filed an appeal. The issue was that, in order to penalize the defendants, the case may be classified under any of the recognized torts. Due to the indirect flooding, there was no trespassing. Furthermore, it wasn’t bothersome because there wasn’t anything persistently disagreeable or irritating about it. When the defendants appealed, the case finally made it to the House of Lords.

Judgment by the court:

The House of Lords upheld the Exchequer Chamber court’s decision and declared the defendants accountable. The defendants were found accountable under the “strict liability” theory, which was established by the court. This is one of the Landmark Judgments of Tort Law


Facts of the case:

In this instance, there was a disagreement between the school and the defendant instructor. As a result, the defendant established a competing school close to the plaintiff’s school. This resulted in significant financial damage to the plaintiff’s school. As a result, he sued the defendant for violating his legal rights.

Judgment by the court:

It is a case of Damnum Sine Injuria, the court said. In this instance, the plaintiff simply suffered losses due to the defendant’s acts, but his legal rights were not violated. Only in cases of Injuria Sine Damnum, or when a person’s legal rights are violated, may the victim get compensation. Because it was not an instance of Injuria Sine Damnum, the plaintiff’s claim was rejected, and no damages were given to him.

Vaughan v. Taff Vale Railway Company (1858):

Facts of the case:

The plaintiff was the owner of a wooded area or plantation that was next to the railroad’s embankment. The plaintiff’s woodlands were discovered burned on March 14, 1856. The defendant’s locomotive engines, which were operating normally at the time of the incident, were blamed for starting it with their sparks. Additionally, it was demonstrated that the wood had already been burned on a number of occasions, with the Company even covering the associated costs.

By filing this lawsuit, the plaintiff once more demanded payment from the defendant for the burned wood. The defendant insisted that all practical measures had been taken to prevent the catastrophe and make the locomotives safe, including capping the chimney, locking the ashpan, and operating them at the slowest possible speed. The railway’s banks were also covered with vegetation that may catch fire. There were a lot of tiny, naturally flammable dry branches in the wood as well. 

Judgment of the court:

In the first case, the business was found negligent. It was noted that the fire started by the sparks from the locomotives had caused losses to the plaintiff. The defendants did not receive the defence that the plaintiff had allowed his wood to become flammable by failing to remove the dry grass and tiny branches. This choice, however, was rejected. In the end, it was decided that the defendant’s actions had been authorized by the statutory authorities. They were thus not accountable because they had broken no laws. Additionally, because all required safeguards were taken and the act was permitted by law, the defendant cannot be held accountable for carelessness. This is one of the Landmark Judgments of Tort Law

Dr. Ram Baj Singh v. Babulal (1981):

Facts of the case:

In this case, the defendant, who owned a brick-grinding machine, was sued by a medical professional. Before the defendants installed the brick grinding machine, the plaintiff built a consultation room. The complainant said that the brick grinding machine was producing dust that was polluting the environment and causing him and his patients who visited his office discomfort. Additionally, it was claimed that the defendants had put in the machine without obtaining a permit or license from the Municipal Board. The defendant, on the other hand, argued that because the bricks werewet before grinding,there was no pollution. The device made no noise at all; therefore, it did not cause any public or private annoyance.

Judgment by the court:

The Allahabad High Court held the defendant liable for nuisance. It laid down two important pillars of nuisance.  The two pillars of nuisance, as established by the High Court in this case are the following:

  • Special damage: The court decided that the dust created by the bricks being crushed posed a health risk to the public. There would inevitably be negative health effects. The faint red coating that was evident on visitors’ clothing revealed that there was enough dust present in the room. As a result, the plaintiff was suffering specific harm as a result of the brick grinding equipment.
  • Substantial Injury: Injury that is considered to be considerable is one that would be considered harmful to a reasonable member of society. A hypersensitive person’s susceptibilities are not taken into account. The plaintiff and his visiting patients in this case suffered serious harm as a result of the grinding machine’s dust. This is one of the Landmark Judgments of Tort Law

Ram Ghulam and Anr. v. The State of Uttar Pradesh (1949):

Facts of the case:

In this instance, the plaintiff’s jewelry was taken. They were eventually found in another home. The police searched the area and removed the jewelry with the authority granted by the Code of Criminal Procedure. They were thereafter stored at the Collectorate Malkhana, where they were once more stolen. The plaintiff attempted to get his jewelry restored by the magistrate but was unsuccessful. The claim was rejected on the grounds that the government was not responsible for paying damages. The plaintiff claimed that the state was responsible for paying him damages since its employees’ carelessness led to the theft of his jewels.

Judgment by the court:

According to the Allahabad High Court, the plaintiff and the government did not have a bailee-bailor connection. Such a connection is the result of responsibilities under a contract, and the two parties did not enter into one. Respondent superior was used by the Court to rule that the State was not obligated to reimburse the plaintiff for his stolen property. According to this, the government, the master, was not liable for the actions of its servant when those actions were taken in the course of carrying out a legal obligation. The police were not at fault when the ornaments were stolen since they were operating legally when they took the decorations into custody.

Conclusion: 10 Landmark Judgments of Tort Law

There is no codified statute governing tort law. It is the result of judgments made in various case laws. The rulings establish new principles and change those that currently exist. As a result, it is still active and has room for extension as more cases are brought to light every day.

Also Read: Law of Torts Nuisance, Click Here!

References: Landmark Judgments of Tort Law

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